Heresy of the Week – Stafleet’s promotion system is an absurd mess


kirk speech

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

“One of the biggest bugbears in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films is the way promotions seem to work. ‘Ranks’ are tossed about with confetti, and apparently neither length or quality of service are considered when dolling out command.”

As a kid, I dreamed of going to Starfleet Academy. Yes, I know. But nonetheless,the prospect seemed a whole lot more exciting than fractions at my twentieth/twenty-first century schools. Instead of the boring school, uni, career (maybe) path, you’d end up boldly going, hopefully all the way to the captain’s chair.

And that’s something which J.J. Abrams’ not-reboot of the franchise has spoilt a little. Getting to the big chair is a little easy. Or at least a little haphazard.

Let’s look at William T. Riker, Picard’s first officer from the duration of The Next Generation (and several films besides). He is offered his own command, the USS Melbourne, in the episode “Best of Both Worlds, pt1”. He turns down the Melbourne — and good thing too, since it gets blown to pieces in the next episode. At that point, Riker was 32 years old. (The canon says, apparently that he was offered his own command earlier, aged about 29). He remained the Enterprise’s first office until the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, at which point he was, err, 44.

Contrast that with the alternate James T. Kirk of Abrams’ films. Kirk takes command of the Enterprise after the events of Star Trek XI. He goes in a single bound from cadet to Captain, a promotion of six steps. In contrast, by the time Riker took command he had been a Starfleet officer for 22 years. As opposed to Kirk’s, err, zero.

This is a terrible way to determine your promotions. By all means, reward Kirk’s heroism with a commission, but an immediate promotion to command? Of the goddamned flagship?

It gets worse when you actually consider that Kirk gets only one thing right in the entire incident, and it is down to luck and the help of a time traveller from the future (No, not that one… -Ed). He’s on the verge of being kicked out of the academy, he is frequently insubordinate, he causes a black hole to form in the vacinity of Sol (Yeah, what happened with that? -Ed).

So when, in Star Trek XII Into Darkness Admiral Pike says:

Do you know what a pain you are? You think the rules don’t apply to you. There’s greatness in you, but there’s not an ounce of humility.

it rings a little h0llow. Pike was the one who gave him the ship. Pike was the one who saw those rulebreaking qualities in him and apparently fast-tracked him to the top. Think of all of the other officers who he was promoted over. Hell, think of Spock. How do you think they feel at the meteoric rise of a, frankly, awful captain.

In The Next Generation, Riker was a solid commander who took the reins when he had to, and never once screwed up to the point of nearly getting everyone killed. In the new films, that’s Kirk’s modus operandi.

So yeah, Starfleet’s promotions policy is a complete and utter mess.

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